Information Overload: Block Days

This is the fourth and final post in a four part series on information overload loosely based on some takeaways from the book Surviving Information Overload by Kevin A. Miller (Zondervan, 2004). (read part onepart two, and part three here.)

Much of what we do in youth ministry is built on a foundation of theological thought and long-term strategic planning, or at least it should be. Everything we do in youth ministry matters–every lesson, every one-on-one interaction, every e-mail, every event. Everything we do serves to influence and shape the faith and attitudes of young people and their families. Because of that great influence, it is really important that in the planning phases, we spend time in uninterrupted thought, brainstorming, preparation, and planning.

Sure, there are things in the office that are urgent (or at least seem to be urgent)–responding to e-mails, answering and returning phone calls, sorting through mail, being available to people who happen to stop by the church office, etc. But if these things that are urgent regularly stop us from taking focused time to work on the foundational things that are really important, then we quickly begin to slide into a habit of last-minute planning, busy work, and reactive ministry.

In Kevin Miller’s book, he talks about establishing a practice of working regular Block Days into your schedule. Block Days, according to Miller, are blocks of time, or complete days, that are set aside with an intentional removal of distractions. Get out of the office. Turn off the cell phone for a few hours. Don’t check e-mail. Stay off of Facebook and other social networking sites.

Create space to pray, plan, and prepare. Here are a few of Miller’s tips for establishing a routine that includes Block Days:

  • Plan Block Days in Advance: These can be either full days or partial days, but get them on the calendar. Miller makes a recommendation for a good start being one full day a month and one half day a week. These block days should be marked as time that you are unavailable–no meetings, no e-mail, no routine work. If you plan ahead, you can prepare for a day out of the office. And if it’s on the calendar, it’s far more difficult to just skip it: “Block days farther ahead. Do that now for the entire year. Then, treat those block days as iron-clad commitments. If an emergency comes up, don’t skip your block day; move it to another spot in the calendar. You can move a block, but never remove a block.”
  • Get Out of the Office: Spend your block time outside of the office, in a place where you can focus without interruptions. Some suggestions include–a private room at a local coffee shop or a university library. Don’t spend this time at home or in the office–there are too many distractions in both of these places.
  • Use Your Block Days Well: Miller gives four suggestions for things he does on his own block days–projects (essential ones requiring deeper thinking and larger chunks of time; planning (of your schedule, to do list, and department priorities); personal growth (reading that will help you to become more effective); and prayer (for your team’s work and relationships).
  • Don’t Lock In to Just Full Days: In Miller’s role, he says, “I can take a full, off-site block day only once a month, but I take two mini-blocks every week. Mini-blocks pack a punch beyond their size. Most people would become significantly more productive if they could work without interruption for even one or two hours a day.”

Do you have a practice or discipline now that is similar to that of block days? Where do you choose to spend that time? How do you use that time? What can you do right now to begin a practice of creating time and space for what’s really important to feeding your ministry?

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